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Arts Institute of Las Vegas again faces possible closure

The Art Institute of Las Vegas may lose its license to operate in Nevada after a report to the Commission on Postsecondary Education recommended denying the school’s renewal request.

New owners Save Ai Las Vegas will appeal the decision at a commission meeting Wednesday in Carson City that also will be teleconferenced to Las Vegas. Commissioners have four possible courses of action: renew the license; suspend it until the sale of the Henderson school is complete; issue a conditional license; or revoke the license and immediately close the school.

The U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio approved the sale of the school to Save Ai, formed by a group of professors, this summer after months of receivership control. The receiver was appointed by the court following the dissolution of the school’s parent company, Dream Center Education Holdings, which operated for-profit schools throughout the country.

In July, the school submitted a renewal application for its private postsecondary educational license, which the commission denied on July 31, stating that the school had failed to provide the required financial statements with the application.

“The commission administrator does not have the authority to renew a license when the applicant fails to meet the criteria for granting the application,” said administrator Kelly D. Wuest stated.

Financial picture murky

The report to the commission ahead of this week’s meeting says receiver Mark Dottore did submit financial statements after the denial, but that the institution cannot demonstrate financial soundness while it is still under the control of the receivership and while the sale is pending. It also outlines a number of ongoing issues with the Art Institute’s independent finances, including the school’s failure to submit enrollment agreement records, a list of current faculty and documents related to student complaints.

“CPE staff spend several hours each week dealing with student complaints and fielding calls from current and past students and faculty. Both Deputy Attorney General Robert Whitney and the administrator have held weekly meeting with the AiLV and their legal team about the situation,” the report states. “The amount of time spent by CPE on this issue is unprecedented for our agency.”

The complaints involve both financial issues related to the payment of federal student aid as well as students’ concerns about education quality. The report says the commission has received complaints of “faculty quitting during the semester, lack of culinary product, broken or missing equipment, no gas for cooking and AC issues.”

Another student complaint said that deaf students were not being provided interpretation services since the school could no longer pay for interpreters, the report said.

The report also includes the result of a June compliance visit from the Accreditation Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which found 11 unresolved issues that must be addressed in order for the school to retain its accreditation, including updating its faculty files and catalogs and providing career services to students.

The school, which has about 230 students enrolled, has continued to operate throughout the summer and into fall, and is planning a “Student Portfolio Reveal” on Thursday to showcase the work of 10 students.

Fate hangs in balance

William Turbay, a professor affiliated with Save Ai, said in a statement that the commission is deciding whether to grant an extension to the college to allow time for the transfer of ownership to finalize. After the sale is complete, Save Ai will have access to federal and private funding in order to address student and staff concerns regarding pay, he said.

“The fate of our career college, our students and our dedicated instructors is being decided by the State of Nevada Commission on Postsecondary Education on this Wednesday morning,” Turbay said. “How can the only college of applied arts with programs that train and foster the career arts in Las Vegas be allowed to close?”

Specific concerns about the school’s facilities, including the air conditioning and utilities, have been resolved, according to Save Ai spokesperson Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, who added that under the terms of the school’s purchase agreement, the receivership is responsible for the school’s maintenance until the sale is complete.

Students, staff and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore have all written letters in support of the school to the commission.

“The Art Institute of Las Vegas is the “last man standing” surrounded by the carnage of fallen universities and colleges across the nation caused by the hand of greed with utter disregard for the education of our young people,” Fiore’s letter stated. “In the not too distant past, many of our local technical and career schools suffered this very same fate at the very same ‘unclean hands,’ but there is a bright light at the end of this tunnel. A new school, a benefit corporation dedicated to the benefit of our local community, is at hand.”

Some students expressed worry that they will not be able to graduate or transfer to another school should the Art Institute lose its license.

“I cannot deny that it has been hard attending the school knowing at times that ail our work may be completely cut short, and our credits not transferred. It has been hard not ever being paid my Pell Grant funds after hastily moving my family from CO to NV,” a letter from student Chase Reynolds said. “We have been living in hardship, and I believe that the improved curriculum, the restructuring of a chain of command, and the open communication with the student body demonstrate that this school is here to stay.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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